"Twitter 911 (112 Europe)" - A Proposal #smem

About the Author Glen Gilmore served for eight years as the Mayor and Public Safety Director of a community of nearly 100,000.  During his tenure as mayor, his community was recognized by CNN as the "10th Safest City in America."  He also served as Deputy-Chair of the NJ League of Municipalities Hometown Security Task Force. During America’s Anthrax Crisis, Gilmore was dubbed "a national hero" by The New York Times and a  "man of action" by TIME magazine for his leadership in responding to a deadly risk posed to over 1,000 postal workers at a contaminated, regional postal facility in his community. An adjunct with Texas A&M University, he has assisted in the creation and delivery of crisis leadership courses funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through @NERRTC.

Is it really such a crazy proposal? “Twitter 911(112 Europe).” A simple network of Twitter accounts with a town name, state and 911 (411 for Europe):

I originally wrote this post in March of 2011.  In December of 2011, my home state of New Jersey encountered earthquake tremors for the first time in recent memory.  As a consequence, phone usage surged and the phone system failed, both cell phones and landlines -- for hours.  This rendered the 911 emergency system useless for hours, leaving those in an emergency without access to emergency communications and assistance.  Why?  Why when the internet remained intact and Twitter buzzed with activity.  I thought of my proposal and wondered why it had yet to be tested anywhere.

It is now three days after Hurricane Sandy and phone calling is sporadic at best: some areas simply can't be called, though Twitter remains unhampered, fully functional.

Please let me be clear that I advocate the use of a Twitter911 system only as a back-up when access to calling 911 is disrupted -- as happened for FOUR DAYS to 2.3 MILLION people recently in Northern Virginia.  And let me stir the pot a little bit more by noting that I think we should be putting into place protocals that would allow both Twitter and Facebook to be enlisted for emergency communications in such circumstances. -- What's crazier?  Tapping into a ready resource in time of crisis (and prepping the system and emergency responders and the public before it is needed) -- or letting emergency calls go unanswered for days as people look at their active social networks and wonder why -- especially when most communities now already have Twitter and Facebook accounts.

How would it work?

1. Open accounts. If a county or parish has seventeen towns, they open seventeen accounts:

@HisTownNJ911 etc.

2. Train. Train 911 call center employees.

3. Provide computers to call center. Dedicate a couple computers in the 911 call center (most towns have a few computers they can reshuffle at a moment’s notice without incurring any new cost).

4. Provide legal disclaimers. Consult with your legal department on how best to phrase all necessary disclaimers warning the public that using a Twitter account to convey an emergency message should only be used if someone finds that they cannot otherwise use a telephone to call 911; include warnings about possible “down”/”fail whale” times, and an alert time that may not match that of a telephone call to a 911 call center. – Whoa, wait, then why bother? Because it provides an easily accessible and integrated secondary means of communication.

5. Inform the community before launch. Inform the public. Go on local television, radio, print, Kiwanis and Rotary. (Yes, tell them to always try calling 911 first, but know that there is a secondary line of communication available if they cannot.)

6. Use the account for incoming emergency messages and “Reverse 911”. Reverse 911 is when a call system is used to send out emergency messages. The public could be informed that the account will also be used to send out emergency messages, while reminding the public that if it does so, questions concerning such messages should be referred to a non-emergency account or elsewhere, so that the incoming tweets remain emergency based only.

So what county or parish will be the first to harness the power of Twitter for emergency response?

 Some communities are already experimenting with Twitter, gathering and sharing information. Fire companies are there. Police departments are there.

Will a county or parish seize this social media communication platform and put it to work, if even in a pilot initiative?

More likely, it will begin where so many emergency preparedness and response innovations begin: at the local level.

Ah, but you ask: What happens when Twitter goes down? The same thing that happens when you try and make a call, but can’t.

Your thoughts?

Please join me on Twitter:  GlenGilmore and CrisisSocMedia

Related Posts:

Could Social Media Like 'Twitter' Be the Next 9-1-1? | Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Emory University

30 Reasons to Use Social Media in an Emergency

10 Reasons Social Media Is Important in a Real Crisis

Social Media and Emergency Response Lessons from a Pioneer

How NOT to Use Hashtags and RTs in a Crisis
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